More than 700,000 low-skilled workers will be unemployable by 2021
By Rick Miner — National Post — Feb. 4, 2010
It may be difficult to imagine, but Ontario is on the verge of an unemployment crisis that could be far more destructive than the 2009 recession.
That's because the province faces a growing number of people who will be unemployable, due to levels of education and skills that are insufficient to meet the demands of the new innovation economy.
While various policy-makers are grappling with our aging population and the shift to a knowledge economy, no one has put the two together and examined the consequences: More than 700,000 low-skilled Ontarians will be unemployable by 2021. That figure is in addition to the 5% of the population that is traditionally unemployed.
Taken together, it means that in 11 years' time, more than 1.1 million people in Ontario will be unemployed with no prospects of finding work. That's like having the entire populations of London, Barrie, Hamilton and Kingston unemployed.
Even worse, the massive unemployment will come at a time when employers will be desperate to find qualified people. Due to demographic changes such as the retirement of the baby boomers, along with the demands for a more highly skilled workforce, it can be safely estimated that more than 1.3 million jobs will go unfilled by 2021.
Why is Ontario facing this crisis? At its most basic level, it's because too many people enter Ontario's workforce as unskilled labourers with no education and training beyond a high school education. And that won't cut it in the years ahead.
Fifteen years ago, the Internet was virtually unknown. Now, it is an essential tool in most workplaces. Many of tomorrow's high-demand jobs don't even exist today. These jobs could be anything from nano-mechanic to memory augmentation surgeon or waste data handler. In many cases, jobs that could be filled by an unskilled person today will require a skilled employee by 2021.
In my new report, People Without Jobs, Jobs Without People: Ontario's Labour Market Future, I have analyzed the data available from sources such as Statistics Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Canada Review, and other materials, including from the United States.
The research shows that even under the assumption of modest population growth, Ontario will still have a major unemployment problem.
By 2021, the experts predict at least 75% of Ontario's population will require post-secondary education and training in order to be employable. However, if current trends continue, only 64% of the population is expected to have acquired post-secondary credentials by that time.
Often, it is suggested these demographic challenges can be solved through higher levels of immigration. But the research shows that while attracting more immigrants to Ontario may help a bit, it will not solve the problem.
That's because immigrants have not fared as well as native-born Canadians in terms of employability; it typically takes about 10 years for immigrants to reach their education-appropriate level of employment in Canada. In many cases, immigrants will require further education and training in order to take advantage of available opportunities. And keep in mind that we will not be the only country competing for immigrants.
Ontario must take action now to avert this unemployment crisis. To begin with, the province must make a dramatic shift in the way people view education. A high school education just won't be sufficient in the years ahead. Workers of Ontario, be warned.
-Rick Miner is the author of People Without Jobs, Jobs Without People: Ontario's Labour Market